Inaugural Address Analysis Shows Bush’s Ranking Against Predecessors yourDictionary.com provides linguistic analysis in historical context.
DANVILLE, CALIFORNIA. JANUARY 20, 2001. yourDictionary.com (YDC), the premier global language portal, today released its linguistic analysis of President George W. Bush’s inaugural address. President Bush delivered the nation’s 54th inaugural address on the steps of the Capitol Building earlier today.
“YDC’s analysis is unique in that it places Bush’s inaugural in the total context of the 53 inaugural addresses presented by his predecessors,” according to Paul J.J. Payack, President and C.E.O. of yourDictionary.com. “We have attempted to provide a view of the address in a larger historical context, which can be used to spot trends that are all to easily overlooked in the political (and all too partisan) passions of the moment.”
In its analysis, YDC researched the language content of all the 53 inaugural addresses since George Washington delivered the first in 1789. Some 125,881 words have been used all in all the preceding addresses, enough to fill a 200-page paperback book.
yourDictionary.com’s analysis included patterns of word usage choices, the use of such grammatical constructions as passive voice, the length of words and sentences, the number of paragraphs, and other parameters of language to gauge the content. YDC also used the well-regarded Flesch-Kincaid Reading Scale.
“The actual word choices of each President are important,” said Dr. Robert Beard, Chief Linguistics Officer of yourDictionary.com and former professor of linguistics at Bucknell University. “They provide a key indicator of the goals, tone and demeanor of the incoming administration (or how they will continue or change in the case of multiple administrations)”.
YDC applied several metrics to analyze the address, including the Flesch-Kincaid Grade-level Diagnostic, that estimates reading grade-level appropriateness. (In its previous analysis of the Presidential Debates, YDC determined that the reading Grade Level for both Bush and former Vice President Gore ranged from the 6th to the 8th Grade level.)
Reading Grade Level yourDictionary.com’s analysis showed that in terms of Grade Level Reading Appropriateness, Bush’s scored 7.5, which ranked him closely with Eisenhower’s 2nd (7.5), Nixon’s first (7.6), Johnson (7.0), and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 4th (8.1). In contrast, Clinton’s two addresses scored about the 9th grade level (9.4 and 8.8).
Before 1900, every inaugural address was ranked at the 12th grade level or higher, with the sole exception of Lincoln’s 2nd at 11.5. The highest scores since 1900 were Theodore Roosevelt’s 11.8 Richard Nixon’s 2nd at 11.6, Hoover’s 11.4, and Kennedy’s 11.3. The lowest score was that of President’s father, George H. W. Bush scored at 6.1.
Reading Ease In terms of readability, which estimates the percentage of the reading public that should easily understand the inaugural, yourDictionary.com’s analysis showed that Bush’s inaugural address scored 65%, which ranked him closely with Wilson’s 2nd (62.5%), both Reagan’s (62.4% and 62.1%), Wilson’s 2nd (62.5%), Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 3rd (61.6%), Eisenhower’s 1st (61.3%), and Clinton’s 1st (60.3%). In contrast, Bush the elder scored 77.3%. The only comparable ranking in the nineteenth century was Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd (58.5%).
The highest score ever was Bush the Elder’s 77.3%; the lowest was Washington’s 1st at 19.9%.
Word Count In number of words employed, yourDictionary.com’s analysis showed that Bush’s inaugural address used 1570 words, which ranked him closely with Clinton’s 1st (1598), Grover Cleveland’s 1st (1682), Eisenhower’s 2st (1659), Johnson’s (1488), and Wilson’s 1st (1682).
The shortest was Washington’s 2nd with 135 words; the longest was William Henry Harrison’s with 8428 words. (John Adams had a single sentence with 737 words.)
Prominent Word Choices in Bush’s address The two most prominent words of all the previous 53 inaugural addresses (aside from function words like “a,” “and,” “the,” etc.) is GOVERNMENT (550 times) and PEOPLE (531 times for an average of 10 times per speech). For this reason it is remarkable that President Bush uses GOVERNMENT only 4 times and uttered PEOPLE only once. He preferred COUNTRY (10), AMERICAN (10), STORY (9), CITIZENS (8), NATION (8), AMERICA(6). GOVERNMENT historically has occurred 4 times more often than even AMERICAN but the concept clearly plays a lesser role in his thinking.
Rather than bureaucratic terms, Bush’s speech is notable for a new political vocabulary including words referring to civility and family. Bush referred positively to CIVILITY, which has occurred only twice before in all the previous 53 inaugural speeches, 4 times. CIVIL occurred twice more (50 times before, for an average .9 per address). COMPASSION had emerged only 5 times in previous inaugural addresses (.1%) but Bush almost doubled that figure himself, using it 3 times. All these terms are historically more befitting a discussion of family than the departments and bureaus of Washington.
In today’s address, Bush chose to refer to the genders in family terminology using ‘fathers and mothers’ twice, ‘child’ four times, and ‘family’ three times. Previously, the word, ‘woman’, has been used only 22 times in all preceding addresses; in nineteen cases in the context of ‘men and women’. ‘Man,’ in contrast is used 138 times, and ‘men,’ eighty-eight times.
Bush also had a notable number of religious references, using the word ‘God’ three times, ‘faith’ three times, and ‘His’ as a reference to the deity, four times.
Advent of the Mass Media yourDictionary found that the grade-level of the inaugural addresses began to drop with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson at the turn of the century. Teddy Roosevelt was known as a ‘man of the people,’ and Wilson’s second address immediately after the end of World War I. Before this time, U.S. presidents spoke at a 12th-grade level or higher (the Flesch-Kincaid Diagnostic tests only to 12th-grade level). The lone exception was Lincoln’s second address, delivered in the waning days of the Civil War.
This drop was not significant until the addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first president to fully leverage the mass medium of radio as an effective communications tool. The grade-level of FDR’s speeches dropped with each address: from 10th, to 9th, and his final inaugural address registered at 8.1. His speeches became progressively shorter, too with word counts of 1880, 1808, 1338, and finally 557.
The grade-level of political speeches began to drop with the advent of radio and was accelerated with the introduction of television and other mass media. The apparent intent of this “dumbing-down” of political discourse was to make oneself understood by the broadest segment of the electorate. American voters are apparently divided on whether they want their presidents to be presidential, statesman-like, or an ‘average guy’ who can empathize with and relate to their specific situations.
No presidential inaugural address has reached a 12th-grade level since Woodrow Wilson’s in 1913. And Harry Truman’s address scored higher than all the addresses of FDR, his immediate predecessor. John F. Kennedy’s address reached the 11.3-grade level and Richard Nixon’s second inaugural scored 11.6. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the level has settled between the 8th and 9th grade. Both of Reagan’s addresses ranked at a low 9th-grade level (9.0 and 9.1) and Clinton’s ranked 9.4 and 8.8.
There is also a close parallel between the readability and the length of words in the inaugural addresses. Ignoring small grammatical functor words like “is,” “a,” “he,” etc., the average length of George Washington’s words was 6.6 letters and the comprehensibility of his speech was the lowest in history. The only presidents who used longer words were Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor whose words averaged 6.7 letters. Apparently, 50-cent words, as H. L. Mencken was wont to call them, don’t play well on Main Street.
Most and Least Popular Words By far the two most popular words in the inaugural addresses are GOVERNMENT (550 times) and PEOPLE (531 times), used more frequently than common function words like UPON (366 times), WHO (333 times), MAY (327 times), MUST (326 times), SHOULD (322 times). Other popular terms (125 uses or more) include: STATES, WORLD, COUNTRY, EVERY, NATION, OTHER, PEACE, PUBLIC, NEW, POWER, CONSTITUTION, UNITED, TIME, NATIONS, UNION, FREE, WAR.
There are 3940 words that have appeared only once in inaugural addresses, such as MOOMAW, FLYLEAF, MAKETH, OSTRICHES, HABEAS CORPUS, CINCINNATI, IOWA, RIO DE JANEIRO, RADICAL, SCIPIOS, SCYTHIA, WHOMSOEVER.
There appear to be some surprises here, including LAWYER, LEGISLATE, LEGISLATORS, SENATORS (SENATOR occurs 9 times), CONGRESSMAN has been uttered twice.
Other lexical rarities of note include (one mention each): POETRY, BONDAGE, DEMAGOGUE, ECONOMICS, FIXED-INCOME, and MICROCHIP.
One added note: PROSPERITY has been uttered 66 times but RECESSION never.
The Shortest Inauguration Speech in U.S. History (George Washington 1793):
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
Some Firsts And Onlies
• George Washington was the first president inaugurated. He was inaugurated on April 30, 1789 in Federal Hall in New York City, where the first Congress was assembled.
• The shortest address was George Washington’s second: two paragraphs long, 4 sentences and only 135 words. He essentially agreed to accept the position and went home.
• John Adams, Washington’s successor, used a single sentence that contained 737 words.
• The longest address was read by William Harrison (not to be confused with Benjamin Harrison 1889) in 1841: 210 sentences in only 25 paragraphs containing 8,428 words.
• It is surprising that Theodore Roosevelt (984 words in 4 paragraphs) did not outscore Harrison in this test of oratorial stamina. On October 14, 1912, after completing his term in the office, he was shot in the lung just before giving a campaign speech in Milwaukee for his second attempt at the office but gave the speech anyway. His opened by confessing, “The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
• Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, McKinley, Wilson, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton presented two inaugural addresses, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt read four.
• The first inaugural ball was held in 1809 following the inauguration of James Madison.
• In 1957 Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first President inaugurated after the passage of the 22d amendment that limits the number of terms a President can serve to two.
• At 43 years, 236 days, John F. Kennedy was the youngest President-elect. Teddy Roosevelt was 42 years, 322 days old when he was sworn in following the death of President McKinley.
• In 1949, the inauguration of President Harry S Truman and Vice President Alben W. Barkley was the first to be televised.
• The oath of office is in Article II, section 1, clause 8 of the Constitution. It reads: “Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation: – “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
• Taking the oath at his 1789 inaugural, Washington ad libbed, “So help me, God,” at the end of the oath. Each subsequent President has included the phrase in his oath.
During his 1905 inauguration, Theodore Roosevelt wore a ring containing a lock of Lincoln’s hair removed after the assassination.
Questions for Inaugural Address Analysis Article
• The analysis of President Bush’s inaugural speech studies different components of the language used. Name two of these areas.
• Why are word choices important?
• What is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade-level Diagnostic?
• What reading level did every speech before the 1900s have?
• What is the reading level of President Bush’s speech?
• What was Clinton’s level?
• What level was Kennedy’s speech?
• How many words did Bush use in his speech?
• The words government and people are the most popular words in inaugural speeches. How many times did Bush use them in his speech? What might this indicate about him?
• According to the article, what is the reason for the “dumbing-down” of political speeches?
• Name one word from the list of words that have appeared only once in inaugural speeches.
• Which word has never been uttered in a political speech? Why do you think that is so?
• Who gave the shortest inaugural speech in our country’s history?
• Click on the second chart. Which president had the lowest reading level in his inaugural speech?
• How many paragraphs are contained in President Bush’s inaugural speech ?
Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:?1 ?We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.?2?The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe – the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.?3?We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.?4?Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.?5?This much we pledge – and more.?6?To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United, there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do – for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.?7?To those new States whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom – and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.?8?To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required – not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.?9?To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge – to convert our good words into good deeds – in a new alliance for progress – to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.?10?To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support – to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective – to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak – and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.?11?Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.?12?We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.?13?But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course – both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.?14?So let us begin anew – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.?15?Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.?16?Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms – and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.?17?Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.?18?Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah – to “undo the heavy burdens … and to let the oppressed go free.”?19?And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.?20?All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.?21?In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.?22?Now the trumpet summons us again – not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are – but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, “rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation” – a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.?23?Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort??24?In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it – and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.?25?And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.?26?My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.?27?Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.
Inaugural Speech Questions
• Summarize Kennedy’s message in the first three paragraphs.
• Summarize Kennedy’s message in paragraphs four to 10.
• In paragraph 11, Kennedy states “Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary,” to which nations do you think he is referring?
• What does Kennedy propose in paragraphs 14–19? (briefly summarize)
• In paragraph 23, what is “this historic effort”?
• In your opinion, did Kennedy present a clear vision of what and how his administration intended to proceed? Explain your answer.
You may want to construct a chart to list your answers to these questions.
7. See the analysis chart of presidential inaugural speeches and record the following information for President Kennedy’s speech:
? number of words
8. List how many paragraphs contain one sentence. How many contain two? How many contain three? How many contain four?
9. For each paragraph briefly list the main topic. For example, # 1—unity of country and purpose.
10. Based on the many topics and shortness of the paragraphs, what do you think is the president’s purpose in the speech?
11. List the number of simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences contained in the entire speech.
12. Are there any paragraphs that contain only complex sentences?
13. Why do you think the president uses such a variety of sentences in a paragraph?
Kennedy used many different rhetorical devices throughout his speech. Some have been highlighted. Find an example of each of the following in Kennedy’ s speech.
14. antithesis – establishes contrasting ideas or relationships between two elements by either joining them together or by placing them one against the other, most often in parallel structure. Example: We must unite to survive, apart we will only be defeated.
15. metaphor – a comparison of two different things asserting that one thing is another thing, not just like it. Example: Her heart is a stone from which no sentiment can be extracted.
16. personification – representing an animal, idea or inanimate object as having human qualities. Example: The storm unleashed her rage and flooded the valley with her tears, as revenge against the men who had desecrated the land.
17. allusion – a reference to a famous person, place or event. Example: The painting is good, but you are no Picasso.
18. anaphora – the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or sentences. Example: I will fight injustice in the cities. I will fight injustices in the country. I will oppose it on the farm. I will oppose it in the office.
19. rhetorical question – a question posed but not answered by the writer, because its answer is obvious. Example: He was a great friend, wasn’t he?
20. parallelism – repeating several parts of a sentence or several sentences that are alike to show that the ideas in the parts, or sentences are equally important. Example: I will fight injustice in the cities. I will fight injustices in the country. I will oppose it on the farm. I will oppose it in the office.
21. antimetabole – a reversal in the order of repeated words or phrases , AB-BA, used to provide an intense conclusion, present alternatives, or show a contrast. Example: I do not think he did it for love’s sake, but for love’s sake, he did it.
22. asyndeton – omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. Example: Let us go running in the forest, frolicking among the leaves, rolling in the fallen moss that weepingly hangs from the giant trees.